Civil War in Monroe County

The Civil War Period

As stated before, Monroe County, from the very beginning of the Civil war, was a hot-bed of sedition, and for the greater portion of the time that bloody struggle continued, was an armed camp. The Union forces had it under heel practically after the first year, but there was a constant going and coming of Confederates, As a result there were murder and arson, hatred and assassination. The spy flourished and the informer lurked in every household.

The first Confederate company in Monroe County was organized at Paris by Capt. John Drake, a Virginian, sojourning in the town at the time. This was on June 17, 1861, and shortly after the news of the capture of Jefferson City by the Federals, had reached Paris. The company was organized in front of the old Virginia House, where the Dooley House now stands, and the crowd was summoned by drum beat, the drummer being Uncle Billie Stevens, the most noted performer in that line in Monroe County at the time. A Confederate flag was unfurled to the breeze and enlistments called for, but responses were slow owing to the fact that the excitement and enthusiasm afterwards prevalent had not yet been aroused.

The first man to enlist was Richard Trussel, driver of the Wyman stage between Paris and Shelbina, and who, on his way up the street, encountered the crowd and asked what it meant. On being told he immediately jumped from his seat, signed his name, and in short order was followed by 125 others. Drake was elected captain and Thos. B. Wilson, of New York, another sojourner, first lieutenant. This company, headed by the Paris brass band, and bubbling over with patriotism, started for Boonville with colors flying, war then being looked on as a holiday, and the inglorious annals record that it returned in a few days singly or in small groups, each soldier appearing at his place of business following that memorable battle as if he had never experienced martial ardor or known the smell of powder. The Drake company was disbanded and no more of war was heard until a month later when a rider came galloping into town with the news that "the Federals were coming." Though Federal troops had been quartered in various parts of north Missouri, following the capture of Camp Jackson, none had yet set foot in Monroe County and the excitement the news occasioned can be imagined.

A chronicler, B. C. M. Farthing, records in the Paris Mercury of June 2, 1901, that it was bawled from one end of Main street to the other and that men, women and children, along with Negroes, quit everything and gathered in an excited and rebellious crowd, talk calculated to hurt being quieted by James R. Abbernathey and Henry M. Fields, the latter famous for his Union proclivities though Kentuckian and slave owner. Women carried Confederate flags and the crowd finally assembled around the Mercury office, where heralds riding in from various sources, brought the news of the rumored approach of an invading force, the Mercury, then edited by Bean and Mason, being a radical secession sheet. As night came on great bonfires were kindled and old men, mounting hastily improvised stands, spoke eloquently beseeching the younger men to stand fast in repelling alien invasion. Men and boys carrying guns and clubs paraded up and down the street in companies awaiting attack, but no Federals came, though that night the "rebel yell" was born. The excitement was not confined to Paris but was prevalent throughout the county. Mounted and armed men in a few days were to be encountered everywhere and strange troopers in groups or pairs, riding from the north, drifted into town every day and out again to join the Confederates south of the river.

Odd incidents occurred, and romantic ones, as the real war spirit grew. One day there rode into town from the north over the flinty hill leading down to the old covered bridge a strange company of horsemen, halting in front of the courthouse. Riding at the head of the grim troopers who composed this weird cavalcade was a slender and beautiful boy of fourteen, who sat in his saddle with the grace of a Centaur. He was garbed in the uniform of a Confederate lieutenant, wore a pair of high-topped cavalry boots, and a cap with a jaunty feather curling from the side. His face was pallid, says the chronicler, his hair long, black and curly, and his eyes brown and pensive. Curiosity was rampant until the men dismounted, tied their horses to the courthouse fence and the boy captain, doing the same, ran to a box in front of the Mercury office, leaped upon it, and began to sing a rebel song in clear sweet tones. Finishing he began a raging rebel speech and in a half an hour the flame of war, real war, which it required four years of blood and suffering to quench, was lighted in the town and county. This strange company, its purpose accomplished, remained a day or so, giving little account of itself, and finally rode away, the boy at its head, as mysteriously as it came. A few weeks later Marshall's Illinois command rode into town from the east and a slip of a girl, Mildred Donan, standing in the doorway of the home of Martin Bodine, sang "Dixie'' as they passed. Miss Donan, sister of the famous Peter Donan and after words Mrs. Reavis, had a beautiful voice and every soldier tipped his cap as he rode by. A year later she was the sweetheart and interceder for the famous Monroe County Confederate captain, Elliott Major, and the act would have cost her her life. The war began quite differently from the manner in which it ended.

By July permanent companies were being organized all over the county and only the briefest mention can be given each.

The first company was that of Capt. Theo Brace and the second that of Gen. Tom Harris. Elliott Major was first lieutenant of Brace's company, being subsequently captured, reprieved and exchanged, fighting to the Gulf and dying in California, as mayor of n country town, and Benjamin Welsh was second lieutenant. Abe Edwards was third lieutenant, John Hanger first sergeant, both being wounded at Franklin, and John Smizer second sergeant. John Vaughn was commissary and Frank Pitts, Jack Bower, James Bower, G. M. Bower, Chas Hanger, Wm. Giddings, Wm. Bassett, Joe Clapper and John Maupin were among the privates. Of this company, at the close of the war, twenty-one had been killed and wounded and eleven made prisoners. Brace himself being made prisoner at Pea Ridge and the company subsequently joining other commands east of the river and west.

The next company to be organized was that of Gen. Tom Harris, which did most of its drilling up and down Main Street and which was whipped into military shape by Dr. Bower, before mentioned, and Lieutenant Kelly of Canton, afterwards killed in battle. Shortly afterwards several other companies were organized throughout the county, among them that of Capt. Elisha Grigsby, Capt. W. G. Hastings, Capt. Preston Adams, a veteran of the Mexican war, and Capt. John Murray. Murray's company was organized in South Fork and G. W. Edmondston was first lieutenant, Henry Gillespie second lieutenant, and Jas. B. Davis second sergeant. This company afterwards joined Brace's battalion and when Brace was made colonel, Murray was chosen major.

The Grigsby Company was organized at Florida with Ben F. White as first lieutenant, and had a fateful career, most of its members before the war closed being killed, wounded or missing. Even its organization was accompanied by treachery, the recruiting officer deserting to the Federals and leading his new command of 1,100 men back to Florida to annihilate his former comrades in arms only to find them gone. It was this same valiant soldier, a veteran of the Mexican war, noted for his looting proclivities, who captured two of the most beautiful young women in Monroe County, girls of its foremost families, and sent them in irons to Hannibal on charge of being Confederate spies, finally banishing them from the state. The young women. Misses Creath and Power, were alone in a carriage at the time with no escort save a Negro boy, and were found with arms and ammunition which they were taking to the recently organized Confederate company in the southeastern part of the county. His name is withheld by the chronicler to whom the writer is indebted for these facts. Grigsby's company was also a part of Brace's battalion and with its captain afterwards found service under Captain Pindle, Grigsby being made quartermaster of that famous command.

Hastings was a northern man by birth, a native of Indiana, but espoused the cause of the people among whom he lived. He was a refined and cultured man, being at that time a teacher at Strother, and was a brave man and gallant soldier. This company was organized at McKamey schoolhouse and numbered 125 men and was made up of some of the best blood of Monroe County, the McGees, Sprouls, Beauchamps, Bridgfords, Coppages, McBrides, Snells, Cruthers, Millers, and others. John Ewing Nevins, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, was chaplain. Hastings was not the only Northerner to cast his lot with the South in this county, John Carter, "Captain John,'' son of ex-Governor Carter of Illinois, at the head of a dozen adventurous comrades, coming over and going south with local commands.

Other companies organized during the summer and fall of 1861-62 were those of Capt. Frank Davis at Madison, and Captain Preston Adams of Washington Township, later Worden Willis and James Crow at Paris. All these companies saw hard service, but little is known of their muster roll. Thos. Sidner, who lost his life in the McNeil massacre at Palmyra, one of the bravest and handsomest of Monroe County's fighters, was first lieutenant of the Davis Company and among its privates were J. R. Chowning, afterwards of Bledsoe's battery, W. L. Noel, Jim Farrell, J. W. Atterbury and a dozen more from representative families of that section the Drys, Hunters, Overfelts, Eubanks and others.

Sidner was captured at Kirksville after the battle of Porter's command with those of Guitar, Merrill and McNeil. He was recruiting for Price at the time, had a captain's commission, and was shot by McNeil's order, along with nine others. Sidner was captured at Shelbyville after being wounded and just as he was stepping into a carriage clad as a girl to make his escape. Tradition still exists as to his handsome bearing and brave conduct in the face of a shameful death. Story says he was as beautiful as a woman and as shapely and that many women loved him, as cavaliers were supposed to be loved.

This company had many members who fought Sherman from Atlanta to the sea and who opposed Grant at Shiloh.

In the spring of 1862 Braxton Pollard organized a company at Florida and in August of the same year at Newark was so severely wounded as to be incapacitated for further service. A number of his men were killed and the company reorganized with Worden Willis as captain and Dave Davenport as first lieutenant. This company was also in the battle at Kirksville and finally made its way south to join Price.

Aside from these regularly organized companies, hundreds of men joined Porter on his raid or rode singly to the river, running the gauntlet of Federal troops, and joined Price on the other side. The county was practically robbed of its young manhood.

The first serious invasion of Monroe County by Federal forces came in September, 1861, when a force of two thousand men under command of Colonel Williams of the Second Kansas Infantry and Major Cloud of the Second Iowa Infantry rode into Paris without warning, the purpose, as soon discovered, being to loot the Farmers' Bank, of which the late O. P. Gentry, a wise and thrifty man, was cashier. Gentry had hidden his money under the counter, the vaults were empty, and Cloud especially expressed his disappointment. The command remained overnight, ordering the citizens indoors, and camped in the old courthouse yard, the officers taking possession of the Glenn hotel for headquarters. Strong pickets were placed out in every direction and Paris had its first real taste of war. Brace's company, which had recently taken part in the battle at Monroe City, was in camp south of town, and the next day the first blood was shed when one of the Federal scouting party was killed in a running fight near the county farm. Cloud moved out toward Shelbina next morning and was followed by Brace's company and a motley of free riders urged on by Dr. Bower, whose military spirit was irrepressible. An attempt was made to cut off the Federal retreat, but was useless. Cloud 's command, though fired on from every side, moved on evenly and in good order, arriving at Shelbina after eluding his pursuers at old Clinton. One man of the Federal rear guard was killed in the running duel. At Shelbina, Brace was joined by General Green and Gen. Tom Harris and the combined commands forced Cloud to evacuate. Green having cannon.

The only real battle fought in Monroe County during the war was at Monroe City, July 14, 1861, between Gen. Tom Harris' command of five hundred men and Colonel Smith's Sixteenth Illinois, reinforced by Iowa troops, then located at Palmyra. Harris had been in camp at Florida and his command was growing so fast that orders were sent from St. Louis to Smith to go out and attack him. Smith started and when near Swinkey ran into an ambush prepared by a body of Harris' scouts under Clay Price. Alarmed he went into camp at Hagar*s farm and waited until the following day. The next day he found himself almost surrounded by Confederates and began his retreat to Monroe, arriving there in time to find the station house in flames, freight cars burning, and the Confederates in possession. He entered, driving out the small command, and took refuge in the seminary building, and the siege began. The Harris command was soon increased to one thousand men by recruits from all directions and confidence was enhanced by the arrival of a nine-pound cannon from Hannibal. This was turned on the seminary while the Confederates cheered and General Harris made speeches, and it looked for a time, even to the spectators, who were present by hundreds in all manner of vehicles, as if the Federal command would be compelled to surrender, only the nine-pound balls gave out and firing six-pounders was as dangerous to the gunner, an Ohio man, as it was to the besieged. By this time rumors that Smith's regiment was cut off at Monroe and was being annihilated reached all the surrounding country, even getting as far as Washington, and commands from Illinois, one under Lieutenant Grant at Springfield and the other under Gen. John M. Palmer, were ordered to his relief. In the meantime 250 men from Hannibal and Palmyra, with a brass field piece loaded on a flatcar, started for Monroe City and as they came in sight Harris' command melted away. Its retreat was a rout in buggy, carriage and on horseback over the prairie, some of the soldiers even throwing away their guns and jumping into vehicles with lady friends. Three shots struck the seminary, wounding two of Smith's men, and one Confederate was killed by the accidental discharge of his own gun, yet the battle raged for a day.

The Harris command reassembled in camp at Florida, its numbers being again augmented, and for the second time orders were sent out from St. Louis to disperse it, this time to Lieutenant U. S. Grant, who had come over from Springfield, Illinois, and who with Gen. John M. Palmer had just opened up the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad again by rebuilding the bridge, burned by Monroe County rebels, over North Fork near Hunnewell. It is needless to say that Grant acted more quickly and with more efficiency than Smith. He marched twenty-five miles to Florida, but when he arrived there found that General Harris and his men had again decamped, scattering as it were to the four winds. This was Grant's first military experience during the war and the beginning of the career that ultimately led him to the command of the entire Union army. His dispatch is brief, wasting no words, and in his autobiography written long years afterwards he wrote that it was during the Florida expedition that he learned the most important of all military lessons, that was that the other fellow was always "just as scared" as he was, which stood him in. good stead in the bigger campaigns to follow. In the Harris command at Florida was Mark Twain and a number of other men afterwards noted in war and peace, and the humorist's war papers, which ran in the Century, were perhaps the most delightful bits of fun he ever wrote, dealing as they did with his own disastrous retreat as. Grant approached. Yet the men in the Harris command proved themselves on a hundred bloody fields in the struggle that followed, dying at Vicksburg, Franklin and Shiloh by scores.

On July 22, 1862, four hundred Confederates under Col. Joseph Porter encountered fifty men of the Third Iowa cavalry near Florida and a fight ensued in which the Federals lost six men and the Confederates one. The Federals were under command of Col. H. C. Caldwell, afterwards appointed to the Federal bench by Lincoln, and now judge of the eastern district of Arkansas, a man still kindly remembered in Monroe County for his justice and mercy, who has made an admirable record as judge. His company retreated to Paris, where the main body was quartered, and Porter went south. A few days afterwards a company of the Iowa regiment met a detachment of Porter's men on the Botts farm near Santa Fe and another fight ensued in which each side lost four killed and wounded. It was at Santa Fe that Lieutenant Brooks of Guitar's command, leading a scouting party, was killed by one of his own soldiers during a night alarm.

In the spring of 1862, a band of Confederates under Marion Marmaduke encountered a troop of state militia under Captain Benjamin of Shelby County near the Elliotsville Bridge on Salt River above Stoutsville and the Confederate lieutenant and four men were captured. Marmaduke jumped his horse over a high bank, swam the river and escaped. The lieutenant, Rowland Harvey, was taken to Shelbyville and shot in alleged retaliation for similar outrages committed by bush-whackers, a word as applied to military warfare which Col. R. N. Bodine says undoubtedly originated at Florida.

On the afternoon of October 15, 1864, when the Confederate cause was hopeless north of the river, five hundred men under Colonel McDonald rode into Paris and engaged in battle with Capt. Wm. Fowkes' company of home guards, fortified in the Glenn House. The firing continued all day and until the invaders set fire to a frame building below the hotel near the Masonic Temple, which compelled Captain Fowkes to surrender, all his men being paroled. The bullet holes can still be seen in the door frames at the historic hostelry and in the sides of the brick walls.

In July, 1862, a flag pole stood just at the corner of the Glenn House, where Main and Marion streets intersect and for months the starry banner of the Union had been floating from its top, to the disloyal breezes of Monroe County. A proud-spirited people chafed but there was no help. Price had failed with his army of deliverance and had sent Porter on his reckless detour north of the river, with Kirksville yet to be fought. The flower of the county's young manhood had long since run the gauntlet to the South and was fighting on southern fields and the inevitable had begun to dawn on those at home. The bush-whacker flourished, of course, there was murder, the midnight call to the door, the shot and scream, but the war was practically over so far as this section of Missouri was concerned. Yet one night irreverent hands were laid on the flag and down it came at the hoarse yell of five hundred drunken and unorganized men who were on their way to join Porter. "Paris is free" was shouted as it lay in the dust, but the bravado of a wild night and a drunken orgy came to a sudden end. Next morning when the town awakened it heard the measured tread of Federal troops and on rubbing its eyes and looking out the window saw McNeil and Strachan, twin horrors of that terrible struggle in this part of Missouri, riding at the head of one thousand men into the public square. They had come to avenge the insult to the flag. The first man encountered felt the impact of their drunken wrath.

"Where is Mr. Crutcher?" (Referring to Thomas Crutcher), McNeil thundered. "The flag pole yonder has been cut down and if it is not up again by night I will bum the town. Go tell him."

By noon the pole had been restored, and four pieces of artillery facing in each direction were stationed beneath it, but that did not placate the pair. Incoming farmers were pulled from their horses and the animals appropriated by McNeils troopers. Protest was met with violence. Two young men, "Ake'' Johnson and Armstead Ragland, had already been ordered shot as a sort of blood lesson to a disloyal people. They were of rebel connection, so informers had said, and Captain Cox had captured them that morning before they arose from bed, but Cox was as just as he was brave, being the same Cox who subsequently slew the noted guerrilla, "Bill" Anderson, in personal combat, and had no idea of the contemplated murder. He despised McNeil, his superior, hated Strachan as he did a viper, and determined to save the young men. McNeil was in an upper room at the Glenn House drinking, his thirst for liquor and desire for blood being fed by the cunning Strachan, and had just declared to interceders that he would "smother the whole d__d breed in their mothers' wombs if he could." Cox, hearing of the sentence, leaped the fence at the courthouse, rushed up the stairs, and brushing past Strachan, confronted McNeil and in angry but determined voice told him it should not be. Then McNeil started in to curse and abuse his inferior, but the look in the eyes of Captain Cox deterred him. He followed the young officer into another room and grew quieter as the latter talked. The result was that he went to sleep drunk and that the execution was stopped. It was the one real day of terror for Paris in the latter part of the war and many live who recall it vet with a tremor in their voices. McNeil was the Claverhouse of Northeast Missouri.

Scarcely less terrifying was another visit by soldiers of an entirely different but none the less dangerous kind. On the 23rd of September, 1862, there rode into Paris from the south a troop of three hundred men from St. Charles County, militia under command of Major Bailey and Captain Krekel. Their conduct in the homes on which they quartered themselves was intolerable. It was Krekel's men who murdered John Ownby near Madison. At their request Ownby's stepfather, Judge Quary, had sent the boy with them as a guide and out of wanton cruelty and for no other reason, when they had gotten where they wished to go, they stood him up against a tree and shot him. Two years after the war while shipping cattle to St. Louis, Quary met Krekel near an alley-way unexpectedly, seized him, and grasping a brick, beat him into insensibility, his life for a time being despaired of. Judge Quary was driven from the city in a buggy to escape arrest.

If the war had its dark side it also had its lighter side and more humorous aspects.

During Christmas week, 1861, Capt. Jim Crow's company had been lined up along the curbing on Main Street at Paris and sworn into the Confederate service. They were all young fellows, cavaliers from the best families in the county, and on Christmas night, before going to war, they gave a farewell ball to their sweethearts at the Glenn House. Snow was over the whole state and the night was cold, but not to the young warriors and their lady-loves, who, amid sentiment excusable at all times, had forgotten the virtue of vigilance. The ball had barely closed and Captain Crow mounted his horse preparatory to leaving when the sound of a bugle came across the crisp night and the echo of cavalry at a gallop was borne to his ears. He wheeled in time to face a column of riders under General Prentiss, the subsequent hero of Shiloh, who captured him and took him before Colonel Glover. Some of the Confederates escaped, but a great many were captured. Next day General Prentiss published the names of two hundred alleged Confederate sympathizers and ordered them to report at the courthouse yard. Here, inside a high board fence and surrounded by a cordon of five hundred men commanded by Colonel Glover, into which the male citizenship of the town was driven like so many sheep, the work of extortion was begun. All had to pay to get out and many amusing incidents occurred. The old Farmers Bank was then in a failing condition and knowing beforehand what was to happen, some of the more far-sighted had slipped several hundred dollars of its notes into the stockade, paying it for liberty and demonstrating at the same time that thrift was not a ''Yankee" possession altogether. General Prentiss himself stood at the gate and called off the names. "Samuel Thompson," he called, and one of the older men ambled up, the possessor of a wit and eccentricity still noted in the county. "Mr. Thompson," asked General Prentiss, "how do you stand, North or South?" "Well, General, to tell the truth," replied Thompson, "I lean just a leedle South."

''Twenty-five dollars, Mr. Thompson," retorted the General, and it was years before the aged joker joked again on serious matters.

John Cheny, another citizen, asked to borrow his ransom from the General and Prentiss was not without humor enough to get enjoyment out of the occasion, along with the money. He left Paris with his coffers bursting and in 1901, when he refused to ask for a pension, preferring to die in poverty, it was difficult to convince Monroe County citizens that he was in earnest. However, there was naught set down in malice. It was whispered that the old hero's pet vice was gambling, faro being his hobby, and that when at Paris his funds to gratify the passion were low.

Monroe County sent one bersiker to the war. He was Robert Swinney of Middle Grove, son of Preston Swinney, ex-sheriff, and had lost a hand with Walker in Nicaraugua. He carried no carbine, fought with a revolver alone, and was assigned to no command or company in Price's army, fighting alone and if necessary attacking an entire company. Legend avers that he loved bloodshed and frothed at the mouth when in battle. Swinney rode with Shelby across the border into Mexico and John N. Edwards tells of his death in storming a hacienda where an American woman had been imprisoned and whom Shelby's men like knights of old, had gone to aid.

The Civil war history of the county might be written into thousands of words without loss of interest, but enough of the really important happenings have been given to give an idea of what Monroe County suffered and endured during that period and the heroism and sacrifice of which its people were capable. Its young men fought on nearly every southern battle field of note and those that were not killed returned home to make useful citizens, some of them to become state and national characters. The record would not be complete without mentioning that a large number of returning Confederates from Monroe County were on the ill-fated transport Tennessee, which sank in Red river after the surrender at Shreveport and that some lost their lives, most of them, however, escaping. Wm. Farrell of Pindel's command, now cashier of the Paris Savings Bank, was one of the guard of honor that accompanied General Price down the river to surrender. It might be well to mention also that X. O. Pindel, acting governor of Arkansas in 1908, was the son of Col. Lebius Pindel of sharp-shooter fame in Price's army and that L. R. Wilfley, judge of the first extra territorial court in China, of which Arthur Bassett, another Monroe County boy, was government's attorney, was a nephew of the same man, showing that blood lines sometimes do persist.

After the Civil War

Since the war Monroe County's history has been uneventful and given mainly to its material development principally agriculture. In 1898 it sent a company of gold hunters to Alaska who were among the first over Chilcoot Pass. They were to have had a dredge boat, but the boat did not reach them and they proceeded without it like hundreds of others being subjected to many privations and much suffering that first winter, when supplies were scarce. Among these Argonauts were T. G. Bassett, Tom Murphy, C. R. Buerck, Marcus Rodes, C. L. Dry, D. M. Fields, J. B. Davis, and others.

In 1879 Paris was visited by a disastrous fire, which consumed the block on the east side of Main street and in 1900 it was visited by an epidemic of smallpox, brought home from the Spanish War and contracted mainly by Negroes. There were eighty cases in all and the town was practically segregated from the surrounding country for a period of six months.


© Missouri American History and Genealogy Project
Created August 16, 2017 by Judy White

Source: History of Northeast Missouri, edited by Walter Williams, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1913